Using computers to teach children with autism is a double-edged sword. Whilst they can often be rapidly engaged by the clean-cut lines, flashing animation and predictable cause-and-effect that a computer can provide, ASD children are often stimulated by the wrong things. For example the sound for “wrong answer” often sounds exciting to them, so the temptation will be just to repeat it as many times as possible - not the desired result. Conversely, the sound for “right answer” can sometimes be upsetting and cause hands to cover ears, as has been observed in the otherwise excellent “Education City”. Another problem is that hand-to-eye co-ordination may just be too poor to even be able to move a mouse pointer to a desired location, in which case computers have to wait a year or two for other therapies to deliver improvements before they can be accessed.

Once there is a degree of accessibility, software specifically for SEN can be beneficial, such as the Discrete Trial Trainer from Different Roads to Learning which works like a computerised ABA programme. Communicate: Symwriter can be beneficial to those children who need visual aids to help them understand word meanings, whereas language software such as SRA Corrective Reading Comprehension and Clicker can help with comprehension and inferencing, those concepts so elusive to those trapped in the ASD world.

An interesting finding by Dr Kawashima in Japan is that rapid, simple arithmetic stimulates the pre-frontal cortex part of the brain, as opposed to long and complex mathematic problems which use a different brain centre. Because the pre-frontal cortex is usually under-active in autism (probably through damage) then Dr Kawashima’s Brain-Training game for the Nintendo DS could help to redress this under-activity with consequent benefits in areas such as snap judgements and intuition. Lots of quick sums are also the basis of the excellent Sumdog for the PC/Mac, which despite appearances is a UK-developed product.

Recently, tablet computers such as the iPad have shown great benefits in education due to their ease-of-use and simplicity for ASD and neurotypical children alike. A list of iPad apps for autism has been usefully compiled by Autism Treatment Trust.

Use of computers and gadgets, though potentially very beneficial, should nonetheless be rationed to allow time to teach “real” social interaction. It is also advisable to minimise exposure to EMFs by networking computers with ethernet instead of Wi-Fi, using iPads with Wi-Fi disabled and withdrawing computer access at least an hour before bedtime to remove the risk of disruption to melatonin levels.